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COMMENTARY: Why Donald Trump’s coronavirus border plan is much ado about nothing


Canada doubled down Friday on its opposition to a plan by U.S. Department of Homeland Security that could have the agency ask the Pentagon to place about 1,000 U.S. troops, armed with sensors, near the border between the two countries to try to detect illegal would-be immigrants.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada was still seeking clarification from the White House about what, exactly, the U.S.’s intentions were and repeated that his government was strongly opposed to the plan.

The prime minister’s remarks followed by a day Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s declaration that Canada had made its “opposition very, very clear to our American counterparts.”

What should be of greater concern to those Canadians who believe the state should not intrude into their private lives is how high-tech instruments, such as sensors and cellphones, are being used by governments to track people’s whereabouts so that they cannot infect others with COVID-19.

This may not be wrong when there is a global pandemic, but the rights and wrongs of this, and how to put this genie back in the bottle after the pandemic is controlled, are certainly worthy of debate — particularly since Prime Minister Trudeau has said he would consider tracking citizens’ movements if his government concluded that was required.

That the U.S. has been considering moving about 1,000 troops near its northern border (and about 500 more troops to its southern border with Mexico) to assist the border patrol in preventing people from illegally entering there is ridiculous, of course, as relatively few people ever try to cross from the north.

This must be especially true today, with the U.S. having become a petri bowl of COVID-19 coronavirus infection. None among us and few from elsewhere would want to try to break into the U.S. today.

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While the mockery that this U.S. plan has engendered is understandable, the stern denunciations from some of the political echelon have been a bit much. The only obvious purpose has been to score easy political points at the expense of a neighbour that finds itself on the ropes at the moment.

The prime minister and his deputy apparently seem to have no idea that the U.S. army already has a division (up to 20,000 troops) of combat forces living minutes away by road from the Thousand Islands and Kingston, and 90 minutes away by road and 20 minutes away by helicopter from Ottawa.

The 10th Mountain Division resides on 434 square kilometres of land at Fort Drum in northern New York. The most frequently deployed regular force troops that the U.S. has, the 10th’s soldiers have done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they have sometimes stood shoulder to shoulder with Canadian and Afghan troops.

And speaking of helicopters, Fort Drum probably has more of them than there are in the entire Canadian Armed Forces.

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